On DJ LeMahieu’s Rise

DJ LeMahieu has continued his evolution into one of the better hitting second baseman in the league. LeMahieu’s 129 wRC+ this season would put him sixth among qualified second baseman and his .393 wOBA puts him fourth. The Rockies player has come a long way since being drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the second round in 2009.

Since joining the league, the Visalia, California native has continued to grow in key facets of the game. Take a look at this chart of his walk and strikeout rates. The trend is clear: More walks, less strikeouts.

DJ KBB

The Rockies second baseman has a very adept plate discipline profile. He is elite at making contact. Only three batters have a higher zone contact rate than LeMahieu’s 95.4% and only three have a higher overall contact rate. In addition, his 36.2% hard hit rate and having the 19th highest exit velocity on all balls in play (minimum 100 results), illustrates the Rockies second baseman makes very good contact more often than not.

Since 2013, DJ has been swinging less and less at both outside pitches and pitches in the zone. LeMahieu has become a more patient hitter, willing to be selective to get his pitch.

DJ PD

Moreover, a key reason for LeMahieu’s success is due to his strong ability to drive the ball the other way. Over the past three seasons, only Adam Eaton was a higher percentage of batted balls going opposite field. In addition, no batter pulls the ball less than Lemahieu. Factor in his batted ball profile and strong plate discipline profile, and we’re looking at one of the better hitters in the game.

Despite these improvements, something strange has been going on with DJ. He’s popping up much more than he ever has in the past. DJ’s Infield Flyball Rate is nearing 11%. Considering only 1% of his flyballs turned into infield flyballs from 2014-2015, this is a strange trend. LeMahieu is not being pitched much different. He’s seeing a similar number of fastballs and cutters as he has in past seasons. The two pitches result in the most infield flyballs.

By taking a look at his heatmap on fourseam fastballs and cutters tells part of the story. In the same article cited above, high and inside pitches lead to more popups.

Pitchers have been throwing LeMahieu more pitches on both the inside part of the plate and high and inside. I remain unconvinced this would lead to such a large difference in the amount of infield flyballs from 2015-2016.

The key for LeMahieu going forward as a player will be to continue to hit well and continue improving as a hitter. LeMahieu’s defense has been in decline for a couple years now, limiting his value. It will be imperative he continues to hit well to help the Rockies return to the playoffs and bolster his own value as he nears the end of his contract.

 

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